When the growing season ended last year I took some time to reflect. What had I learnt? What had I enjoyed? What did I want to do differently next year.. that sort of thing. I wrote about it here. I also thought what a good idea it would be to keep a box of red wine in the shed for those emergency much needed cheeky vino’s at the end of a hard days graft!
I concluded I’d grown to become quite a proficient gardener. That was not to say I won’t still have set backs, and I’m sure they’ll be many more this year but it does now mean I usually know why!
Leeks ruined by Leek Moth! That reminds me to dig out the mesh as this years leeks are about to be planted out!
I had a hunch
Gut instict is a wonderful thing isnt it. Shame on me for not listening to mine over the last three years then! A niggle in the back of my mind said that our soil had become a bit empty of goodness and well let’s face it, dead. Could that be possible?
We certainly produced a small but viable harvest each year despite the crops lacking a bit of oomph. I even coined the phrase vegetable tapas to justify our small havests! But it was the nasties that really gave the game away. Like an 11th Biblical plague, blight, mosaic virus, magnesium deficiency, rust, black fly, white fly, raspberry beetle, leek moth, bean beetle all regularly came to plot 27 and scuppered a bumper year(s)!
For some time I held the belief it was the downside of growing organically. I tickled the soil from time to time and religiously applied liquid seaweed and home made comfrey feed. I still cannot believe how bad comfrey tea smells! NOTHING can prepare your nostrils for it!
At this point I’m reminded of a train journey with my husband. We’d bought a tub of chicken manure pellets and decided to open the lid to experience the smell.. what would they smell of? rabbit food? fish food? nothing? No folks, it was chicken shit plain and simple! We knew it and incredibly quickly, I’d estimate 3 seconds, everyone else in the carriage knew we had a tub of chicken manure pellets too!
I digress. Anyhow, I relied on organic principles and companion plants to do the hard work rather than becoming a trigger happy rotivator enthusiast with a packet of growmore in my back pocket.
It makes perfect sense to me then that Mr bug over there on plot 25 with a taste for an afternoon espresso (coffee grounds spread to deter slugs) would hop, skip along to plot 27 for the taste of the good life pesticide free! I would, wouldn’t you?!
As it turns out, my much pondering was superseded one morning back in October when I woke with a sudden urge to get stuck in (quite literally) and dig over the whole plot! SOMETHING I WOULD NEVER HAVE DONE PREVIOUSLY.
I have to confess, I LOVED it! and it allowed me to really see what was going on below the surface. Clay, dense, thick, clumpy, dry and more surprisingly no worms! What little life there was in the soil had also quite clearly struggled to pull down the goodness I’d been laying on top for the past few years. Aha! I concluded that what my 2017 crops needed more than anything else was aeration and organic matter… TONNES of it!
Luckily the allotment is attached to a farm and this enabled me to collect manure. 50 wheelbarrows later, a bad back, muddy boots and a belly full of tea I literally tipped bucket loads on and dug it in to a spades depth!
I also planted green manure Field Beans and Phacelia especially designed to build structure along with Caliente Mustard to suppress soil born bugs and diseases and resolved never to dig the plot ever again!
Feet up, job done?!
While I waited to reap the rewards of my endevours, last month my fears were confounded by none other than Charles Dowding (the grand daddy of No-Dig) when I attended one of his two day courses. He too thought my soil might be dead and I thought Holy Moly I need a plan B!
…arrived at 8am on the back of a lorry in a tonne bag. Things had got serious!